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Schindler's List (1993)
How a corrupt man is humanised by a man deemed to be sub-human.
---minor spoilers within---
It is amazing to believe that in 1993 Steven Spielberg was responsible for creating two of the most influential films of the last number of decades. With great aplomb he produced 'Jurassic Park' - a film reflecting the calibre of his imagination and the potential of Computer Generated Imagery in order to enhance the realism of film. 'Schindler's List' on the other hand was never intended to be a show-case for imagination and new technologies. In fact, it strives to demonstrate the suffering caused by both of these factors when they are within the grasp of 'the wrong hands.'
Imagination and the ability to generate differences that do not exist is a core-factor that has led from one attempted genocide to another. During the Second World War and the occupation of Europe it became clear that fictional differences were driving the operation to eliminate the Jewish people. The second factor, technology allowed mass-movement of the state's victims and their extermination - mechanisms lubricated by the contemporary propaganda of radio, film, rallies and posters.
This film is about two men, not one, who stood against the grain of the Nazi propaganda machine and eventually set their differences aside. These men were Oskar Schindler and Itzhak Stern - a Nazi party official and an accountant. Within this iconic piece of film their relationship is strengthened through functionality and trust.
Oskar Schindler is introduced as a reserved, womanising, money-wielding and disloyal industrialist. He wines and dines those in high positions, throwing lavish parties (whilst people die at his feet in the ghettos) in order to acquire future business contacts and 'friends in high places.' The prime concern in his life is his wealth and profit. His early opinions are summarised by his quote: "now I see, in the past my businesses have failed as there was no war." Over the years however, Oskar grows to love the Jewish people working in his industrial factory knowing that he and only he has the power and contacts to save them.
Itzhak Stern was the Jewish accountant employed by Schindler to operate the economic necessities of the factory, he was responsible for the employment of the Jews - insisting that they would save money and could be swiftly trained to operate the machinery. Stern was the modest protector of his people, and frequently hires those who would not last in the harsh conditions outside the factory.
Stern leads to one of the most joyful and sorrowful moments of the film - the hiring of an old, one-armed man as a machine-operator insistent on thanking Mr Schindler personally. "Of what use is a one-armed worker?" cried Schindler "he has valuable skills" replied Stern - "he's a metal press operator." "Very skilled." This in itself was amusing, but I cried when Schindler himself uses Stern's reply to defend the worker when quizzed by a Nazi Official. Schindler was touched by Stern and the honest of his people, his slow change of outlook became evident as the film progressed.
The film itself is magnificently well paced allowing timely plot and character development under various settings and scenarios. The black and white footage with the selective hint of colour allows the viewers to look on this dreadful event without distraction or confusion. The 'snow' scene is the pinnacle of cinematic shock and many of the following scenes make you wince with fear for the people which, on-screen you have inexorably bonded with.
I feel that the tagline of the film: "Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire." A line taken from the inscription engraved on the ring gifted to Schindler by the people he had harboured owes greater relevance to Stern. Itzhak had saved the life of Schindler from the greed of money - now long spent on buying the freedom and food for 1,100 Jews. Oskar was liberated from his mind bent on profit - which had now been retrofitted to manufacture love and understanding. As Stern saved one life - Schindler could save hope for the world entire. There is always good within every evil created by man and money.
An accurate expression of the elegant truth within a context of differentiation.
Andrew N. McVea
Les quatre cents coups (1959)
Film journalist and critic Francois Truffaut became disenchanted with the films of the late 1950s. He held great admiration for Sir Alfred Hitchcock (whom at this time was shooting 'The Birds,') and Akira Kurosawa (working on 'Saga of the Vagabonds.') Both of these directors displayed technical innovation, enthusiasm and interest-captivating techniques in the production of their films.
Truffaut believed in the ideals of the theatre scholar Bertolt Brecht who claimed that stages (and ultimately films) are not exclusively for the entertainment value. Audiences wanted to feel involved and learn from the experience - films had to be rational (at least to a degree) and hold some validity in the real world (this is not fully applicable to the recently created 'Children's films.') I agree that a boring film is not a 'bad film' for it can be educational purposes or to display interesting cinematic or technical achievements. Brecht would argue that "when an audience enters an auditorium, they do not merely discard their brain in the Foyer." With this I certainly agree - films with little or no explanation, evoke limited thought and interest from the audience - whilst a film or stage performance which is over-explanatory renders the imagination obsolete.
The key is sustaining equilibrium - something that Truffaut manages beautifully. The cinematography and scenery were magnificent, the acting was apt for this warm film and yet the story is deliberately vague in various parts and punctuated with humour, which I for one certainly did not expect in a 1959 family film. There is no surprise that this writer became a director and an actor in a hope to alter the face of cinema for decades to come.
Thirteen Days (2000)
Honest cinematography, story and acting.
When I heard that Mr Costner was making a film about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis - I was terrified, more terrified than if a Nuclear ICBM was 80 miles from my home. I was expecting Costner to assume the lead role of President John Kennedy - I was wrong. Mr Costner handed that role to Bruce Greenwood (a fine choice for his voice alone,) and became Kenny O'Donnell - special aide to the president (a little similar to his role in JFK.) This film unlike many other Hollywood adaptations (Cough 'U-571' Cough) was fairly historically accurate and presented at a steady, unrushed pace. I misjudged this film before seeing it.
The reels of celluloid arrived at cinemas gradually, sticking around for merely a week or so. This film had a target audience - those with an interest in historical events and their consequences, no those who went to see Hanks in 'Apollo 13' hoping for action but instead getting three hours of grey suits, grey expressions and grey acting. This film too is predominately grey (the colour of 1960s politics,) and if you don't like it - tough. This film is a drama to be shown in History classes globally for content - not to be converted into mugs and fluffy pyjamas with matching trading cards. This review may appear to poke fun at America - this is not the case, it highlighted how the UNITED States were and can still be, if only they settled for reality instead of enforcing artificiality upon the world - a world which in October 1962 we almost lost.
Watch this film, try to enjoy it, remember it is not - nor never was it intended to be a huge Box-Office smash - just a truthful preservation of the facts which all too many are keen to forget.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
"Get bust living - or get busy dying"
'The Shawshank Redemption' is based heavily upon Stephen King's short story 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption' - adapted for screen by Writer/Director Frank Darabont (screenwriter for 'The Fly II' and 'Indiana Jones 4.') Since this film has graced the silver screen, Darabont has also adapted King's 'The Green Mile' and 'The Majestic' with great success. This has truly sparked off a trend of King adaptations such as 'Night Flier,' 'Hearts in Atlantis' and 'Dream Catcher.' In this film an innocent man is wrongly accused of the murder of his wife and her lover, and imprisoned in 'Shawshank Prison' for two life-terms. Within the prison walls (some stronger than others) the enigma unravels as 'Andy Dufresne' (Tim Robbins - 'Arlington Road') meets extraordinary people with the gift of 'seeing hope through the bars,' such as 'Red' (Morgan Freeman - 'Dreamcatcher') who tells Andy to "Get bust living - or get busy dying." Under the harsh conditions in which Andy's love for reading, music and friendship are exploited (sentencing him to the light-devoid 'hole') he uses all his skill and logic to conduct a plan unlike any other - escape and exploit 'Warden Norton' (Bob Gunton - 'Patch Adams') and start living again.
This film is successful due to the simplistic (yet ideal) cinematography, the splendid acting, the real emotion and the fact that Darabont employs many of the same cast his other films ('The Green Mile' and 'The Majestic') - generating a wonderful, intimate atmosphere between the cast. This film seems like a much-loved, family project - rather than a faceless Hollywood production...
The Wicker Man (1973)
On remote Scottish Islands - all can hear you scream, and enjoy it!
A devout Christian Police Sergeant ('Howie') is requested via a letter of source unknown, to search for a missing child on a remote Scottish Island called 'Summerisle' who has now been missing for several months. On the island he is stunned by the Heathen way of life, which incorporates free-sex, a bizarre method of teaching and ancient rituals. The people of Summerisle are lead by 'Lord Summerisle' (Christopher Lee,) whom 'Howie' believes is orchestrating a cover-up over the disappearance of 'Rowan Morrison,' as not even her own mother will acknowledge her existence. 'Howie' is to be sacrificed by the people of this island (who sabotage his plane) in order to convince nature to favour them. This film is riddled with excellent quotes and strange events. A horror film as they should be - on a psychological level rather than a knife wielding, white-masked, indestructible killer (you know who I'm talking about - John Carpenter!)
Christopher Lee was not paid for this great film, until other stars do this they'll "simply never understand the true nature of sacrifice."
28 Days Later... (2002)
Congratulations are in order for Danny Boyle and Alex Garland! The director and writer of '28 Days Later' have ran-free from the trap known as 'The Beach' - an earlier film which both had cooperated - stirring worry into the minds of 'Shallow Grave' and 'Trainspotting' fans.
This British film opens with a completely deserted scene of London (similar to that of New York in 'Vanilla Sky')at dawn, when the protagonist 'Jim' is waking in a hospital bed (completely naked) from a coma. The story follows Jim trying to get-to-grips with this new reality, making the 'Real World' of 'The Matrix' seem petty in comparison. Jim (with the aid of a Pepsi endorsement)learns more about the genetically-engineered virus simply called 'Rage' and how it can be transferred via bodily fluid (blood, saliva etc.) converting the unfortunate party into a 'super-zombie' capable of much more than merely groaning and biting (which they still do - only faster.)With the help of 'Selena' (who 'Jim' falls in love with) he avoids contracting 'Rage' and fights to stay alive by raiding shops for food and joining a military camp - defending themselves from 'the infected.'
For the budget allotted - this film was brilliant with a variety of surprises, laughs and moments of silent tension.
Life ain't a beach when you are being persued by running, climbing and jumping zombies. Only Mr DiCaprio (from 'The Beach') can deter them!
Can you survive the 28 days!
"Holy brilliance Batman!"
Definitive. Artistic. Dark. Classic. Humerous.
Can you name many other 1989 films that score as highly on so many plains and share a similar box-office intake? Thought not.
Tim Burton takes the helm of this renowned film (where 'Batman Forever' and 'Batman & Robin failed,)delivering the key aspects of darkness, plot and action which the story deserved. The Danny Elfman musical score won him further contracts such as 'The Simpsons' and 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' (also a Burton project)and certainly blows all other competitors away! In fact this film was so successful when it came to merchandise (despite the 15 certificate in the UK, the mainstay of the products were action figure)that it held the Guinness World Record until the 1999 Release of 'Star Wars I - The Phantom Menace' which beat it with the aid of a far greater, more expensive marketing campaign! Furthermore, Michael Keaton is a superb Batman (I do doubt his Bruce Wayne performance a little)and Jack Nicholson is breathtaking as Jack Napier/'The Joker' stiring plenty of laughs along the way...
I would not recommend the Warner DVD as it has NOT been given the attention that it deserves i.e. the footage has not been remastered and there are next to no special features - even the chapter selection menu is incomplete.
"Quick - to the Batmobile!" to rent it!
If you want to scream - it's too late...
A sequel fabricated merely one year after James Cameron's 'The Terminator' also scores another role for Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese) as Hicks - leading this fresh offensive against these classic fiends with more firepower than any other of the Alien films. This particular film is characterised by suspense, darkness and fear (yet less than Ridley Scott's groundbreaking original)- with the twist of a devastating arsenal. This is one of the most successful sequels ever, seconded only by The Godfather Part II and Cameron's second cyborg flick - Terminator 2. If you enjoyed the original Alien and Terminator 2, I believe that this is a superb hybrid!
One Hour Photo (2002)
"The word 'snapshot' was originally a hunting term."
Williams has poise and an eerie silence on his side. He fits the bill perfectly as the daily nobody that sees your intimate life, masked in your photographs. A number of twists, catchphrases and an unusual ending will creep you out...
Smile - for it may be your last.